The dream school would have a “Room of Requirement,” that deus ex camera in the Harry Potter books that provides whatever its users require. It is also the attic of the ages, a repository for everything from Harry’s dangerously annotated potions book to Professor Trelawney’s empty sherry bottles.
But if a school can’t have a Room of Requirement, the next best thing would be a room like my school’s “Drama Storeroom” presided over discreetly by the drama teacher from a curtained-off desk. Unlike the Room of Requirement, the Drama Storeroom, contrary to what its name suggests, is, yes, a storeroom, but it is also and maybe more importantly a refuge. Things in storage are not quite so heaped & crowded that there isn’t room for stuffed furniture, desks, and some equipment.
The last time I had to go in, something I rarely and reluctantly do, I bumped into one of my seniors. He is finished for the year, having taken his IB exams, but he was there to finish the editing of the movie he has been producing and directing for the last two years, which will have its premiere next month. An 11th-grader was on the far side of the room playing his guitar. Two other 11th-graders were half working on their project and half loafing at ease and inviting their souls.
The reason I am reluctant to go in is that the drama teacher is one of those individuals who can be cool without being lax. Her room is therefore an entirely comfortable place for the students who hang out there, whether they have a project, a song to sing, or just the need to decompress. Of course, in the run-up to a play or musical, the Drama Storeroom is a beehive, but even then it remains a room of ease as well as a locus of work.
Such it was recently, when the school musical played to full houses. Book, lyrics, and music were written by the drama teacher; the instrumentals were produced by a graduate; of course the vocals were live. It was a pleasant show, though it entailed a lot of work on the students.
One day one of those students asked to be excused from an essay test, so I wrote the drama teacher saying he was welcome to go if he really had stuff to do, but I didn’t want him to use the preparations as an excuse to cut a class. (I am not cool.) The drama teacher wrote back saying that he was indeed needed, so I in turn said “Fine, just make sure to wag a finger at him if he is being sly.” He ultimately showed up for the essay test, so I guess they had a little chat. He felt no upset or animus towards me, showing that whatever the drama teacher had said, it was just the right thing to say, as usual.
This teacher is clearly a paragon, but if she taught in Florida, or Tennessee, or other RAT states, she would not be evaluated on her knowledge, on her hard work, on her discretion, on her sympathy, on her insistence on high standards, and on her humanity. Instead, she would be evaluated at least partly on how students did on “objective” tests, and these not in drama but in other subjects. Some of the students might not even be her students!
Not far from the drama storeroom is an incommodious but acoustically friendly place that I call the Cave of Music because so many of the school’s instrumentalists use it as a kind of practice space. Most of them are in the Chinese orchestra, but one plays his marimba there. One day he was practicing away, and I realized that the piece he was playing was the praeludium to Bach’s first suite for unaccompanied cello. I couldn’t resist going by, and I found him there. “Can you play that praeludium through?” I asked. “You mean…” and he played the first two measures. I nodded. He then played the entire movement for me with the poise of a polished performer. When he ended I applauded, and he took a bow. Though it was not quite like hearing the late Janos Starker play the same movement, it had its charms. The music that comes out of the Cave is a fine thing, whether Chinese classical music or Bach on the marimba. What the Cave of Music shares with the Drama Storeroom is that it is a humane space for something besides test preparation.
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